Fransesca Quartey sitter i trappen


The dream of a new norm

I have lived in Skellefteå since 2012. I became involved in the Expats and Friends Association (EFA) at an early stage. EFA works to make it easier for those who come here from other parts of the world to live and work here to enter our Swedish society, thrive and stay. Since 2021, I have also been part of the EFA Board.

As a board member, it happens that people I meet at our events turn to me as a Swede to better understand how they can best enter Swedish society. Most of the time they get my crash course in what not to do. Stand too close, talk/laugh too loudly, gesture too much, take up too much space, have too strong opinions, like to argue their case, express uncomfortable or opposing views or more simply put, stand out from the norm. Things we like if you're visiting, but less so if you live here. In the former context you are international, in the latter you are an immigrant. I also say that if they have something important to say, they should preferably say it in English, not Swedish, unless it is more or less flawless. "Broken" Swedish will never get the same listening and respect, no matter how well-intentioned the listener is.

For all the goodwill in the world cannot hide the fact that we in Sweden find it incredibly difficult to see beyond our own surroundings, except for those who have lived and worked abroad for a long time. Our imagination is simply not sufficient to understand how difficult it is to move here as an adult and live here as a non-Swede. Especially when very little of what you know and who you are seems to be of value. This struck me with horrifying clarity the other night when I tried to comfort a deeply despondent and upset friend born in a non-European country who said that it didn't matter how much they tried to become part of society, how much they worked to be accepted and appreciated in their workplace. They still never seemed to fit into the "gang".

How insanely exhausting it must be to constantly try to "fit in", I thought. Constantly looking for the right thing to say, do, be, instead of just being yourself and being appreciated accordingly. Having experiences other than Swedish should be a fantastic asset, not least up here in the north with our huge need for labor from other countries. How can we attract people to move here if we are never willing to test our own assumptions, norms, assertions and rituals and perhaps even replace them with new ways of thinking, thinking and being? Perhaps the hardest thing is to change the way we see ourselves as so open (it is always others who are less tolerant, less accommodating), although the answer is there in plain sight. How many people look like me or have my background where I work, live, socialize and spend time? How many times have I opened my home or visited others with a different origin than my own?

People from 120 countries work at Northvolt in Skellefteå. One hundred and twenty! If I could wish for anything, it would be that we dared to take a cue from them and other international companies and be inspired to work to make more workplaces in our municipality look the same. From the work floor to the boardroom. What a huge advantage it would give us in terms of our population development and what a unique creative social climate it would create. If it became the new norm, I think my friend would feel less vulnerable and finally just be "one of the gang".

/ Fransesca Quartey

- Cultural practitioner with a passion for theater, cultural policy and social issues in general.

Photo: Patrick Degerman